It was the light above the door that caught my eye first of all, then the man doing a slow circular walk outside it. Only a smoker walks that way, telling me that the dark and otherwise deserted-looking building may well be a pub. In a village where everything seemed to be fast asleep this looked like the saviour I'd been holding out for. I pulled over and through chattering teeth asked him if they were still open. After looking me over, he invited me inside.

Six hours earlier I was at home in my garage, checking over my bike one last time and getting ready to set off on what I knew was going to be a long, cold and very dark ride. Inspired by the freezing hours on Exmoor last year when riding the Exmoor Beast sportive and my training earlier in the year for London to Edinburgh, I had planned a ride that I knew would be painful. I'd be heading up to York and on to Malton and then Pickering at the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, over the top of the Moors and on to Middlesbrough. Over the Tees and directly north to Newcastle then due west along the route of Hadrian's Wall to Carlisle. According to the Garmin website, this was a total distance of 215 miles but it turned out to be a fair bit further in practice.

My ride was planned for the weekend of 8-9 November. At this time of year, daylight is in short supply and there was no way any battery powered lights could last long enough for me, so I bit the bullet and shelled out for a hub dynamo and a suitable light. I'd already promised myself a set of handbuilt wheels (and some other upgrades) in preference to buying a new bike for 2014, so adding a third wheel to the bill was an easy option and solved the problem nicely. I had a few worrying moments trialling the new set-up as the beam on a dynamo light is much more tightly focused than the typical battery light. Until I got the angle right I was convinced the dynamo was running at only half power and bolted a couple of Smart commuter lights to the bars as an emergency back up.

On my last overnight ride I'd used a rucksack for spare clothes and so on but found it to be an annoying sweat trap. So, this time I bolted on my luggage rack and invested in a rack bag. The 8 litres was about enough for what I was carrying and didn't look like it would be too much of an aero drag compared to full on panniers. I was pretty well insulated for the trip but threw in an extra baselayer and some heavier gloves and so on just in case.

It was a long route to monitor the weather for, and throughout the week of the ride I'd been glued to the BBC Weather website. The temperature wasn't going to be much more than about 5 or 6 degrees all day Friday and just above freezing overnight. Thankfully, there was no strong wind to deal with and apart from the final stretch near Carlisle, not much rain either.

After plenty of fretting and a lot of last minute packing and repacking of my gear, the day finally arrived. I'd planned on leaving late afternoon on Friday to ensure I reached Carlisle after check-in time at the B&B I'd booked. Earlier in the year I'd managed 200 miles in 15 hours but in much warmer conditions, so my estimates for how long this would take were very speculative.

I spent Friday morning at work and drove home at lunch, had a short nap and some food and then went out to the garage around 4pm to see how things were looking. It was drizzling but the forecast said it would stop about 6ish, somewhere between home and York. So, with a deep breath I set off up the A19. It was just after sunset when I left and very soon after I was riding in darkness and would carry on doing so for the next 15 hours.

Despite the rain, this should have been an easy section for me as I know the A19 very well. In fact, it proved the opposite as I found myself amongst the rush hour commuter traffic and just to add an extra complication my glasses started to mist up in the rain. I was struggling to make out the edge of the road on the unlit sections and the lack of space given me by the traffic meant staying safe ruled out risking the slight wobble that comes with reaching for a drink. Consequently, I arrived in York a couple of hours later feeling more than a little parched.

Some fluids, a snack and a break went down well and I enjoyed all of these by some bus stops in the town centre. A busy city street wasn't the ideal place to strip off my jacket and top to add an extra baselayer but it wasn't going to get any warmer for a long time. My morale was a little low after a grim start and I set out to find the road to Malton feeling somewhat intimidated. One thing that did help though was the lack of any further rain, and despite the low temperatures I soon dried out. The road I needed was the A64 and for a while the traffic felt as intense as it had been earlier but after 7pm it eased off and the dry conditions and flat road meant I could start to relax and enjoy my ride a little more.

Malton did not take long to reach and I sheltered in a shop doorway on a deserted high street coned off for resurfacing. I topped up my carbs with a cereal bar and my insulation with some thicker winter gloves and a skullcap added underneath my headband. The ride up to Pickering was another short hop - around an hour - and the temperature was getting lower as I pulled into the BP garage. While I was reasonably warm with the riding I thought I'd take the opportunity to get some food and a hot drink in me before I took on the road over the Moors.

The shop visit turned up one of those cycling encounters that bring you back into contact with how the rest of the world thinks. Hanging around having a sarnie and a hot chocolate I was making some small talk with the assistant about the A169 up to Whitby. She wasn't able to give me much of a description other than it was about 20 miles and was quite "up and down". As I left the shop and started getting ready to set off though, the manageress came hurrying out looking concerned. She didn't exactly try and talk me out of riding that road (at 10 o'clock at night) but gave me some dire warnings about it being exposed moorland. I'm sure she thought I was being cocky or at least stupid for heading off regardless, but I tried to at least reassure her that I did this sort of thing fairly often.

Despite my bravado at the garage, I was feeling quite wary of what lay ahead as I started the climb out of Pickering up onto the Moors. The dynamo cast a reassuring pool of light on the road ahead, outside of which it was tough to see anything at all for quite some time. There was a stiff breeze blowing but it wouldn't be until later when I was right up on the top of the hills that I felt the full force of it. For now it was keeping me nicely cooled as the effort of the climb got a sweat going.

I knew that this was going to be the toughest part of the ride and that if I could get off the Moors without any incidents, mechanicals or getting too cold then, while there were still plenty of miles ahead, they were in relatively tolerable conditions compared to the next couple of hours.

The traffic on the road was sparse and for long stretches I was totally alone in the dark. Only after a good forty minutes climbing did I get up high enough to start seeing the lights of Teesside glowing over the northern horizon. Even then it was still a fair way to go and the wind picked up and slowed me down somewhat. The Moors are not a plateau though, and although there wasn't much serious climbing to do there were still some up and down sections and on those short downhills I could feel the cooling effects take hold. It was getting seriously cold now.

Things started to get interesting once I saw signs for "Blue Bank" with a warning of a mile and a half of steep descent. As fun as it was to be doing 35-40mph in pitch blackness, I was getting extremely cold now and it was a relief to reach the bottom. Sadly, my route now put me at a literal and metaphorical crossroads and I think my next decision was a poor one. Instead of taking the planned route into Whitby and then following the coast road I convinced myself to turn left on the A171 signposted to Middlesbrough. I was sure that this would be a more direct route and would save me time.

What actually happened was I found myself climbing once more, this time directly into the wind. Progress was slow and even though I was making more effort than ever it wasn't keeping me warm enough. Looking at the map now I can see that this section is called Roxby High Moor and it certainly felt high up. I knew this had been a bad decision and it was time to get off these hills as quickly as possible. Seeing a sign showing another 22 miles to Middlesbrough sealed it for me and I paused to plot an escape route. A right turn a few miles ahead towards Loftus fit the bill and as I took that turning I immediately started descending.

The sweat build up was chilling me to a worrying degree and I was running through in my mind the sorts of places I could shelter in at midnight in the middle of nowhere. Just as I concluded that the back of a pub or takeaway might be nicely supplied with empty cardboard boxes to curl up in I saw my friend the landlord enjoying his cigarette. A fortuitous meeting indeed, and I spent the next hour drinking endless cups of coffee by a log fire and enjoying the tail end of the lock-in in the company of some mainly drunk locals. As flattering as it was to be asked if I was riding the Tour de France next year, it got a bit embarrassing on hearing it for the fourth time. One thing was for sure, they thought I was a bit mad.

By 1am the last of the drinks were being finished and, as concerned as he was about whether I was going to be ok, the landlord clearly wanted me off his hands. I'd dried a couple of my layers in front of the fire and I hadn't felt this warm in many hours, so I set off in high spirits feeling like I'd had a particularly close call followed by a huge dose of good luck. The ride up to Middlesbrough was an easy hour and a half on roads without any serious ups or downs and with some smooth tarmac totally empty of traffic other than the odd minicab dropping the local revellers home.

I spent that stretch planning another stop and I ran through the sorts of places I'd be able to shelter indoors at this unearthly hour. Supermarkets and petrol stations topped the list and in a moment of desperation I considered the main police station, but happily the McDonalds I passed on the outskirts of town turned out to be open 24 hours and I took full advantage. A good long sit down, a warming burger and hot chocolate and a nap at my table, and I was ready to head out again.

I had intended to take the Transporter bridge over the Tees but annoyingly this was closed tonight, so I had to divert upstream to a more conventional bridge and double back again, adding a few miles to the trip. Then it was Hartlepool, which came up relatively quickly. Whether it was fatigue or poor signage I'm not sure but I ended up doing a couple of laps of the northern suburbs trying to find my way up the coast towards Peterlee. I must have wasted at least half an hour and there was some serious swearing before I got onto the A1086 which eventually fed into the A182 heading directly into Newcastle.

From Middlesbrough onwards I was in mainly built up areas so the scenery was unspectacular, and after Hartlepool I was simply holding on for dawn in the knowledge that soon after the sunrise shops and cafes would be opening, giving me somewhere warm to rest. If I could keep rolling until then I would keep my warmth up and all would be well. With this in mind I stopped briefly around 5.30 to down a caffeine energy shot I'd been saving for times like this, and it seemed to do the trick.

The closer to dawn I got, the less out of place I looked. By now there was the occasional dog walker out on the streets and I guess they took me for someone riding off to start an early shift. I was happy with being inconspicuous in this way but standing out like an obvious nutcase when crossing the Moors and the following stint had been quite good fun.

At around 6.45 I arrived in Houghton-le-Spring, which looked a big enough place to justify stopping. With dawn not far away the locals were beginning to stir. A newsagent was open and I hung around in there for a while but wasn't tempted by a cold can of Coke. The shopkeeper didn't look the sort to spontaneously offer me a cup of tea, so I nipped across the street to a butchers shop. Their hot food counter was heavenly to lean against and they obliged with tea and some friendly banter. I strung that out until 8.00 when Subway opened and then decamped to there for another hot chocolate, some cheese on toast and 20 minutes sleep leaning against the wall next to my table.

Warmed and now wide awake I was off again. Newcastle was a short hop away and I needed care around Gateshead to make sure I ended up on the right bridge to take me over the Tyne and properly placed to head west out of town. Passing by the Angel of the North and the Tyne Bridge gave me a few sights to take in but my fatigue was building to the point where I started to revise my route again.

I knew it was going to be a tough ask to get over to Carlisle in any event but the thought of doing it on the back road that shadowed Hadrian's Wall no longer appealed. The more direct A69 with the increased likelihood of petrol stations and services was my choice, despite the heavy traffic driving at high speed. And so began a long and depressing slog that would last for the remainder of the daylight hours.

While the scenery on this final stretch was pleasant it was largely unchanging and after a few hours its monotony began to get me down. Overall it was 58 miles from Newcastle to Carlisle and I think I counted them off one by one on the computer. The only positive note for this last leg was that the rain I had been expecting seemed to have come and gone already leaving the roads wet but the skies clear and sunny.

I made regular stops in laybys to eat the last handfuls of jelly babies left in my frame bag and the remaining couple of caffeinated gels. None of this made any appreciable difference to my exhaustion and with about 15 miles to go I could feel myself starting to drift off as I coasted downhill. Aware of the danger this presented I pulled in to the very conveniently placed petrol station just a little further on. I'd pinned my hopes on a final hot chocolate waking me up enough to safely finish the journey but when I fell asleep standing up holding it I realised something more serious was needed. Luckily this was a fairly new BP garage and as uninviting as it sounds when written down, the floor of the disabled toilet felt like luxury as I lay down for a nap.

Waking up an indeterminate time later (it could have been 2 or 20 minutes for all I knew) I felt rough but reasonably awake and shambled out of the kiosk to finish a ride that by now felt like it had been going on forever. With this being the run down from the northern end the Pennines in the centre of the country it was a relatively gentle stretch, but in my desperation to finish I put in a bit more effort than I absolutely needed to. It was still an agonisingly slow countdown as I was getting close to the outskirts of Carlisle.

I normally take a picture of the town's sign when arriving at my destination but for some reason I never saw my virtual finishing line so it wasn't until I washed up in the main square that I could finally relax. By now it was about 4pm and the sun was starting to set, giving a lovely tinge to the sky for the few minutes I hung around to take it in. But being as cold and as tired as I'd ever been in my life it was too much to hold on any longer and I was off to the B&B for an extremely long and very hot shower.

I didn't get out of bed until the following morning, other than to take delivery of a huge pizza later that evening. The full English breakfast the next morning disappeared very fast too. After that I was on trains all day Sunday making my way home, reflecting on how far I'd ridden and how wonderful it was to be warm again!